Faded blue wall next to a ledge that a blurred figure is sitting against.

After Mary Oliver


Every morning and evening, a tiny, chalky pink pill. “This is a gentle dose,” she says, like I’m a painted pony, a glorious blue horse, she’s gentling.



In his 1911 masterpiece, Blue Horses, German expressionist Franz Marc painted four horses, hue of ocean and bowing, a-sea in yellow and red. To Marc, blue represented masculinity and spirituality, yellow feminine joy. Red—scarlet scream, slashing, hallucinatory paroxysm of blood. 



This is pink: an oil painter begins with a base of alizarin crimson, adds flake white and cadmium red, and intensifies the color with an ocean-drop of phthalo blue.  



Minute pink tablet, mornings and evenings—and unending battles for my mind— from moment of prescription to eternity. Sun-dazes scintillating upon shrapnel shards refusing to go down to loam.




1958. Paul Janssen, a Belgian pharmacologist, had developed an opioid painkiller and sought one even stronger. His team of fifty chemists—low-paid, self-taught—synthesized chemical byproducts of the original opioid as rapidly as possible and injected the new molecules into mice.

The results of the forty-fifth molecule in the series intrigued Janssen. The forty-fifth didn’t stultify pain, but instead did something else, something scarlet. 



At twenty-one, long before Haldol, I overdosed on Tylenol PM and went to bed. I clutched my teddy bear and sang a lullaby, wordless, unmeaning.


I fell asleep, dreamless—
And awoke, hours later,
white-and-warring as cartridge and bullet

undreaming still.



Mary Oliver, in her poem “Franz Marc’s Blue Horses,” writes: 


I would rather die than try to explain to the blue horses
___what war is. 



The painter of Blue Horses served in the Imperial German Army during World War I. He concealed artillery from the enemy with canvas covers dotted Eros-olive, yellow and lush, with pointillist brush.



The bombardments come in blue with gashes of yellow, cobalt-plumed Fokker fighter planes galloping on into mustard skies seething with machine gun fire until I flame down down down, plummet unnoted by God, unnoted by my shrink, or maybe not, because now, I still among white veils, the white hangings between beds, while the cerulean-tattoo boy in the next mutters, “Mama will hide the gun,” until I shake and  the snowy nurse gives me the injection. 

Blue nose noses me lightly.  

I still. I no longer want to die.



Janssen measured the pupils of a rodent injected with the forty-fifth molecule when he placed the mouse on a hot plate. The mouse’s pupils dilated with pain, but the rodent appeared apathetic, unmotivated to lift its paws.

The newfound molecule trapped the animal in a trance, searing scarlet flickering cerise, glowing rose, until it burned. 

But after the burning, blush, blue—




Imperial Germany identified Marc as a notable artist and ordered him to be withdrawn from combat. But before orders for reassignment reached him, a splinter from a ricocheting shell struck Marc in the skull. 



Every morning and evening, a minute pink pill, and my self-war stills to four blue, bowing horses; patio gardens of tomato and basil; books loamy and bawling as babies. Stills to my husband’s fingertip down my forearm, in the house like a locket, behind the door painted ocean.



One of the horses walks toward me.
His blue nose noses me lightly. I put my arm
over his blue mane, not holding on, just

The poet has died
and the painter has died.

And I would die if I tried to explain to the blue horse
our wars rage still. 

Photo by Dako Huang, used and adapted under CC.